Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
The American console game designer Electronic Arts (EA) just released Battlefield 4: China Rising last October. It will not be available in China, despite a lift on banning console games for 13 years took place in September (within the free-trade zone in Shanghai). According to a Forbes article, one cannot even mention the name, which in China is “ZhanDiSi” (or literally “War [Number] 4”).
So why is the game banned?
Basically, the storyline is that the PRC undergoes a massive coup by military leaders and attacks the US. The US moves in to clean up the mess by ousting the runaway admiral and restoring a more hopeful and likeable politician.
The Chinese Ministry of Culture called it a threat to national security. To them, the game is another Western cultural imperialism fashioned in fancy entertainment to brainwash their kids- something they, as guardians would never do.
A Chinese newspapers described it as an attempt to discredit China’s national image and a “new form of cultural aggression.”
Why such a blatant move by EA?
“Rising China” seems more about prepping the minds of Westerners, not Easterners, to the idea that there are some among the ranks of the PLA and PLN that are extremely conservative and antagonistic. It provides a most extreme scenario of play with a Chinese backdrop around 2020.
“Battlefield 4” does not have much of a market in China so the Redwood City, California company is not losing much present business there, but certainly they are risking a healthy future. They could have tailored the game in other ways and created more of a cooperative military exchange- for example- the two states team up against terrorism or Organized crime.
While the Chinese market is legally off the distribution channels, “Rising China” will probably become one of the favorites in South Korea, Japan and the youths of the surrounding states with disputed territory with China who feel a real “Rising China” in their midst. That is unfortunate overall, however, because it further adds to unnecessary tension between those states and China at such a trying time.
What Western intelligence agencies should do, as far as the world of gaming and political action goes, is create a Chinese variant of Battle Field 4, where the Chinese play Chinese characters and are part of the coup, fighting against tyranny and corruption. That particular game would still be legally unsellable, but the Chinese would be more apt to bootleg it and play it anyway. And if such was engineered correctly and was in fact seductive in look, feel and play, then millions of youths could enjoy a more realistic scenario, as well as be part of the underground that bootlegs it, enjoys it and is positively affected by it. I can imagine the sons of party officials and millionaire youths playing the games as a joke or out of rebellion. The trick is to make it far more tempting to play and better than anything else with a narrative that is not too far off. Moreover, PC games and other media are the best bet at this time.
A similar set-up could apply for the distribution of pro-political reform movies and music with liberal Western overtones. The Chinese black market infrastructure is already primed to offer what sells. Make a sexy game that Chinese youths can identify with and the Chinese will bootleg the merchandise and the message for you.